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Virginia faces struggling Georgia Tech

Team brings stingy defense to Atlanta, looks to return to win column after snapping 12-game unbeaten streak at Duke last week

For once, coach Tony Bennett's men's basketball team will be considered the offensive juggernaut on the hardwood.

With a 65.2 point-per-game average, the No. 15 Cavaliers (14-2, 1-1 ACC) bring the nation's 236th-ranked scoring offense into Atlanta, Ga. tonight against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets (8-9, 1-2 ACC) counter with 64.6 points per game, good for 249th in the country.

Despite the lack of offensive fireworks, however, Bennett's team boasts the ACC's top defense and knows not to dismiss an opponent on the basis of scoring prowess alone.

"Watching ACC basketball, you see how every game's going to be a battle," Bennett said. "Every day you prepare the best you can, and when you go on the road or at home - it doesn't really matter - you're going to have to be sharp. We're obviously getting geared up to go play Georgia Tech."

Virginia, which surrenders just 51.1 points per game, achieved its stellar defensive scoring mark against a relatively tame non-conference schedule. The Cavaliers can claim stifling wins against Maryland-Eastern Shore and Towson, but those squads score an average of 58.9 and 49.3 points per game, respectively.

Still, Virginia added some legitimacy to its impressive early season statistics with its most recent wins against LSU and Miami. Even during the team's three-point loss last week at Duke, the Cavaliers held a Blue Devils offense currently averaging 80.3 points per game to just 61 and actually climbed one spot in the Associated Press Poll after the game.

And at least Virginia has handled its easier competition. Georgia Tech, in stark contrast, has not been so consistent and certainly not so successful. The Yellow Jackets hung with Duke Jan. 7 but lost their prior three games with decidedly underwhelming performances against Mercer and Fordham and during a 25-point blowout loss at home against Alabama.

"That period of time right after finals and right before conference play, where I thought we were making some strides, we just didn't perform that well," Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. "That was disappointing, no question about it."

Virginia has leaned heavily on senior forward Mike Scott to dispatch its early opponents but has also given plenty of on-court opportunities to the team's underclassmen. After sophomore guard KT Harrell and redshirt freshman forward James Johnson each departed from the Virginia program within a 24-hour span in late December, the surprising moves forced Bennett to give more minutes to relatively unproven players. Bennett's new-look bench was on full display at Cameron Indoor Stadium as freshmen Malcolm Brogdon, Darion Atkins and Paul Jesperson all earned substantial playing time.

"I thought they did a solid job when they got in the game against Duke, and then even some games before," Bennett said. "I thought that was a good sign for them and for their future ... As they continue to play well those minutes certainly could expand, it's all about helping the team, and I think that's a positive, so I'm happy that early in the conference season they've given us some quality depth."

An unexpected factor which should only help those young players' development is the early arrival of 6-foot guard Teven Jones, a North Carolina product who enrolled at Virginia for the spring semester after graduating from A.L. Brown High School and attending Fishburne Military Academy in the fall.

"From a basketball standpoint, [Jones] helps give us some depth in practice - he can't play in the games - but it'll just get him more ready for the following year," Bennett said. "Then from the academic side of things, he won't be traveling, so he can really focus in and try to ... start his academic career on the right foot. So, for us, this is a win-win."

With Jones providing bonus depth and the team coming off a bye week, the Cavaliers' coach is confident that against Georgia Tech's anemic offense, Virginia should avoid overthinking the matchup and let its dominant defense continue to pave the way for another lengthy winning streak.

"I think you use [the bye week] to its fullest from a rest standpoint and a preparation standpoint," Bennett said. "So those things combined, hopefully it's a positive. But when you're playing well, it's not all bad. You just keep on rolling too"